Referees may have cost Saints and Chiefs their Super Bowl destinies

The last thing the NFL wants is for referees to decide big games. That’s exactly what happened to the Chiefs and Saints on Sunday.

Roger Goodell and the rest of the NFL front office desperately want to avoid any sort of on field controversy during the Playoffs. Conference Championship Sunday was a nightmare for the league. It’s very clear that dubious officiating decisions drastically altered the ability of both the Saints and Chiefs to realize their Super Bowl dreams.

New Orleans head coach Sean Payton isn’t pulling any punches about the officiating mistake that caused his team’s season to end. Officials missed an obvious pass interference call with 1:45 left in the Saints home game against the Rams. Los Angeles defensive back Nickell Robey-Coleman clearly ran into New Orleans receiver Tommylee Lewis before Drew Brees pass arrived on the scene. To make matters worth, Robey-Coleman also hit Lewis with a head-to-head blow. Officials somehow managed to miss both calls.

Payton claims the NFL’s head of officials told him via phone that his crew “missed the call.” The Saints coach respected the honesty of the phone call, but he still deemed the call something that the Saints “will never get over.” It’s a particularly painful blow for Brees. At 40 years of age this might have been his last time to reach the Super Bowl and go out on top.

The officiating errors in the Chiefs-Patriots game weren’t quite as definitive, but they also drastically impacted the game’s outcome. There were a series of close replay reviews, but to credit the officiating crew they seemed to get each of those calls right. Some Chiefs fans might still believe Julian Edelman got a finger on a punt that skipped by him in the fourth quarter, but at best it was too close to call.

The egregious error in this game came via a fourth quarter roughing the passer call against Chris Jones. Officials ruled that he made contact with Tom Brady’s head as he swiped down in an effort to dislodge the ball from the quarterback’s grasp. Replay reviews showed that he missed Brady’s head and only made meaningful contact with Brady’s arms. The 15-yard penalty greatly aided New England’s ability to drive down the field for a go ahead touchdown.

Clearly there was a lot more action after that call in the Chiefs-Patriots game, but Kansas City would love to replay the game from the point where they could have pushed New England into a tough third and seven inside their own territory. Brady might have been able to conjure some magic, but it’s also possible the Chiefs defense could have made a big play.

Add all these errors up and it’s possible the Super LIII will lose quite a bit of luster in the eyes of serious NFL fans. The Patriots and Rams may play a classic, but there’s a real argument to be made that the Saints and Chiefs should be playing for the title.